Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Horton hears a Jonah

-- by Dave

Compliments to Scott Horton at Harper's, who nails Jonah Goldberg's hide to the proverbial wall in his review of Liberal Fascism:
It’s hard to say exactly what this book is. It has pretentions. Goldberg wants to sell it as a work of intellectual history, charting the “secret” origins of the “American Left” in fascism. But this is to a work of real intellectual history what a Classic Comics magazine on Plato would be to a Platonic dialogue. Its crudeness and superficiality suggest that Goldberg simply doesn’t understand most of the thinkers he is characterizing—indeed, his descriptions are as primitive and confused when they deal with figures on the left as on the right. The work proceeds with the confidence and artistry of a solid B- undergraduate term paper in a political philosophy class. Not the sort of thing one would expect to find published as a book.

I think Horton's review is largely congruent with mine as well as my running follow-up debate with Goldberg. I particularly note that Horton also considers Paxton's Anatomy of Fascism one of the genuinely definitive texts on the subject.

I only part ways briefly with Horton on one point, but it is an important one:
There is no “fascist” movement in the United States today. Neither are there significant “fascist” political candidates. On the other hand, a wealth of fascist ideas have crept into and influence the nation’s political dialogue. These ideas should not be suppressed or excluded for it would be impossible to do so and maintain the integrity of our democracy. But it is vitally important for the population to understand the historical attachment and roots of these ideas.

In point of fact -- one that I emphasize in my piece -- there are real fascist movements in the United States: particularly the Aryan Nations, the National Socialist Movement, Stormfront, White Aryan Resistance, and various other self-identifying neo-Nazi organizations that are unmistakably and irredeemably fascist. Moreover, there are other movements -- Christian Identity, the "Patriot" movement, Posse Comitatus, and various other far-right organizations -- that are identifiably proto-fascist -- that is, they fully fit the description of what Paxton would call "first stage" fascism, and what Roger Griffin also quite correctly calls "groupuscular" fascism.

The point being that when we talk about fascism today we can readily and properly reference them to move out of the realm of theoretical abstraction and to examine fascism in action, which (as Paxton argues) is always how it must be understood. The continuing existence of these groups underscores Horton's point: that Goldberg misapprehends and misconceives fascism. Whether he does do deliberately or not is a matter of conjecture, I suppose, but his abject fleeing of any serious debate about the book definitely indicates someone acting in bad faith.

Meanwhile, over at Goldberg's 'Liberal Fascism' blog -- which of course features all the latest fan raves and lotsa smooches to Glenn Beck for his ardent adoption of the book, and links to whatever few positive review (see, e.g., the Washington Times) -- anyone looking for a response, or even a link, to Horton's piece will mostly hear the sound of one hand wanking.

We're familiar with that, of course.

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